Paul Oliver, marketing director at Soho Press, isn’t counting on promoting the next Girl on the Train. But books like Smaller and Smaller Circles by F.H. Batacan (Soho Crime, 2015), which won the Philippine National Book Award and is considered the first Filipino crime novel? “That’s what we’re interested in,” he says.
Soho Crime, an imprint of Soho Press that publishes mysteries set all around the globe, is one of several independent publishers that see continued opportunities in acquiring international titles, and in turn, penetrating overseas markets.
Forthcoming books from Soho Crime—whose website showcases its list’s international nature with a world map pinpointing various locales with a crosshairs icon—include My Name is Nathan Lucius, by South African writer Mark Winkler (Feb. 2018), and Japanese author Fuminori Nakamura’s Cult X (May 2018). Oliver says that the imprint, which launched in 1991, has had a few “unexpected successes and breakouts” over the years, among them The Boy in the Suitcase by Danish authors Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, which was Soho Press’s bestseller across all imprints in 2013.
At Brooklyn’s Akashic Books, publishing international mysteries has become, unexpectedly, a busy two-way street. When Akashic released the Brooklyn Noir anthology in 2004, it was inconceivable to publisher Jonny Temple that it would grow into a series of 90 (and counting) region-specific titles.
“Brooklyn Noir was never intended to be a series,” he says. But when the book took off, he started looking further afield. “We had a small hit on our hands, and it became very easy to say, ‘Why don’t we do the same model in other places?’ ”
Next year those cities are almost all outside the U.S.—Baghdad, Lagos, Marrakesh, and São Paolo, to name a few. Books in the series emphasize local writers and, overwhelmingly, sales are strongest in their own markets. The moment the series went overseas—in 2006, with Dublin Noir—it launched Temple into the subrights business. Akashic controls world rights in all languages for every book in the series, then makes subrights agreements with publishers in various countries, allowing the books to publish in the authors’ original languages.
Over time, established agreements have led to additional sales for the press. For instance, the French publisher who acquired Paris Noir has since licensed nine additional titles from the series.
Coming to America
Moving in the opposite direction, Europa Editions has renewed its investment in bringing international crime fiction to American readers. The press is relaunching its World Noir series of crime fiction from overseas, which currently makes up a third of its 30–35 publications each year.
Europa’s acquisition of Michel Bussi’s Time is a Killer (Apr. 2018) indicates how strongly Europa believes in expanding its international crime list, says publicity director Rachael Small. In acquiring Time is a Killer, the publisher outbid Hachette, with whom Bussi, a top-selling writer in France, had previously published two novels. Europa will publish four of Bussi’s novels over the next two years.
Other forthcoming World Noir titles include Scottish author Alan Parks’s Bloody January (Mar. 2018) and Weeping Waters by South African author Karin Brynard (Apr. 2018).
Europa is probably best known as the U.S. publisher of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, and Small says that the World Noir relaunch, which includes a revamped cover look for the books, is an effort to distinguish its crime fiction from other works.
“World Noir wasn’t distinct enough from our literary list,” Small says of the previous designs. “So readers didn’t think, ‘This is a mystery. This is a crime novel.’ The redesign is going to set it apart.”
At 15-year-old Bitter Lemon Press in the U.K., publisher Francois von Hurter oversees a team of three, who find new works by scouring French and German newspapers, reaching out to a network of translators, and working with agents in London. Von Hurter is among those who’ve noted a drop in U.K. sales in recent years, due to a contracting library market, so the U.S. readership has become increasingly essential for his house’s survival. American readers now provide 60% of Bitter Lemon’s revenue.
As a result, rights are a substantial component of von Hurter’s calculations about what to publish. “We need to have the U.S. and Canadian sales,” he says. Bitter Lemon buys world rights when possible and sells subrights to markets the publisher wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.
International Crime Fiction Syndicates
A recent acquisition by Severn House, also in the U.K., shows just how complex the swirling marketplace of acquisitions can get. Severn recently acquired Glenn Cooper’s Sign of the Cross (Apr. 2018), which was first published in an Italian translation by Casa Editrice Nord. Cooper, an American, had previously published with HarperCollins, among others, but hadn’t been able to find a U.S. publisher for this book. Severn House publisher Kate Lyall Grant says that the Italian e-book edition, which pubbed in late 2016, has sold one million copies. And now it’s coming back to the author’s home country and language.
Such numbers are, of course, impressive, but Akashic’s Temple is quick to point out that the contours of international mystery publishing allow publishers of his size to thrive without a million-plus blockbuster. “We have one book that’s that lucrative by the standard of a large press,” he says, “and that’s [the 2011 children’s book parody] Go the F*ck to Sleep.” Given Akashic’s size, he says, the press can meet its financial needs with the steady combined sales and network of the Noir series, which currently constitutes 25%–35% of its annual title output.
“We have a streamlined process and a community of about 1,200 writers around the world,” Temple says. “Take the 90 [Noir] books together, and maybe it’s not huge business for a big publisher, but for us it’s big business.”